The desert is lovely in its restfulness—the great brooding stillness over and through everything is so full of God.
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert...where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days... When the devil had finished all this tempting...Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit.
—Luke 4:1-2, 14
It's hard to imagine going without food for forty days. Experiencing the darkest of temptations. And not only overcoming them, but, stepping out of the desert full of the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, that is exactly what the New Testament account states.
I've never been to a desert. The closest I've come was out on the western range of Colorado and eastern Utah. It's considered to be semi-desert shrubland. But, even there amid the arid, desert-like temperatures, things still grow.
Cactus for one. Blooming with big yellow flowers under the harshest of conditions. And Mexican poppies with their bright orange hue. I am particularly fond of the Claret Cup Cactus with their bright red blooms. Even the spiky Yucca plant has large plumes of cream colored flowers.
Then there are the wildflowers that have somehow adapted to the heat and lack of rain. For instance, did you know that butterfly milkweed can bloom even in the semi-desert of the thirsty shrubland? Or Blue Flax? Or Prairie Coneflowers?
We experienced several days without rain in early August and everything was struggling. The grass was brown. The leaves on many trees were yellowing. And my blooms looked like they were on their last legs.
So, how is it that things can still grow in the hot, arid sun?
Like cactus… that live in extremely dry environments, growing even in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth. Cactus have adapted to their surroundings by storing rainwater when the weather turns harsh. I wonder if Jesus cut into a cactus or two to quench his thirst?
Cactus can teach us something about surviving a desert experience… a sustained dry time in our lives. Cactus store up what they will need for the long haul. What are you storing up? Things won't benefit you during a barren season. Not the latest fashions or the cutest shoes. What will sustain you during your trek through the wasteland is feeding on God's word. Storing up his promises so that when all you can do is whisper them in your weakness, they will minister deep to your soul, feeding and sustaining you.
Deep within me I have hidden Your word… I have treasured it in my heart.
Another way that desert flowers survive is their ability to reproduce. The seeds of desert wildflowers, wrapped in thick, waxy coats, can lie dormant on the barren ground for years. But when they get washed and softened by unusually heavy or frequent fall/winter rains, the seeds finally crack open and push their roots into the rocky soil. In 2017, after five years of drought, the deserts in California burst into what they called a super bloom.
I love this. So, let me ask you this, "What are reproducing? What seeds have you scattered in your life?" If you've been reproducing bitterness or anger, anxiety or fear, despair or pessimism. That is exactly what will return to you.
But, if you're scattering seeds of life. Then life will bloom in you and in those around you.
Perhaps that's what sustained Jesus in the desert. Words of life. Words of promise. Words of hope.
And God's presence.
God takes everyone he loves through a desert. It is his cure for our wandering hearts, restlessly searching for a new Eden... The best gift of the desert is God's presence...
—Paul E. Miller
One of my favorite writers is Lilias Trotter (born in 1853). She was a gifted painter, yet, she chose to live a life in the desert heat of Algeria amidst Muslim women instead of pursuing a highly sought-after career.
She loved the desert. Listen to her words…
LIFE—the first glance would hardly find it on this African hillside in the summertime. The hot wind of the desert has passed over it. Yet life is reigning, not death, all the while; it is there, in greater, infinitely greater abundance than when the field was green.
Stoop down and look into that withered grass, and a whole new world of God's handiwork will come into view in the burnt-up tangle.
With her eyes always on the lookout for beauty, Lilias found that even in the desert she could spot it. I have no doubt that Jesus did too.
I don't see the desert as barren at all; I see it as full and ripe. It doesn't need to be flattered with rain. It certainly needs rain, but it does with what it has, and creates amazing beauty.
With God's presence beside us. His promises hidden deep within us, a treasure trove to cling to when walking through the desert. With eyes to find beauty even in those dry spells.
May we, like Jesus, step out of the desert we find ourselves in, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.